Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This book is a love letter to my family. It’s about the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us who we are today. I’ve reserved the very best stories of my life for this book…to celebrate the strange, and to give thanks for the bizarre. Because you are defined not by life’s imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. And because there is joy in embracing—rather than running screaming from—the utter absurdity of life. I thank my family for teaching me that lesson. In spades.
There Is a Method
to My Madness
This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren’t. It’s basically like Little House on the Prairie but with more cursing. And I know, you’re thinking, “But Little House on the Prairie was totally true!” and no, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t. Laura Ingalls was a compulsive liar with no fact-checker, and probably if she was still alive today her mom would be saying, “I don’t know how Laura came up with this whole ‘I’m-a-small-girl-on-the-prairie’ story. We lived in New Jersey with her aunt Frieda and our dog, Mary, who was blinded when Laura tried to bleach a lightning bolt on her forehead. I have no idea where she got the ‘and we lived in a dugout’ thing, although we did take her to Carlsbad Caverns once.”
And that’s why I’m better than Laura Ingalls. Because my story is ninety percent accurate, and I really did live in a dugout.1 The reason this memoir is only mostly true instead of totally true is that I relish not getting sued. Also, I want my family to be able to say, “Oh, that never happened. Of course we never actually tossed her out of a moving car when she was eight. That’s one of those crazy things that isn’t quite the truth.” (And they’re right, because the truth is that I was nine. I was sitting on my mom’s lap when my dad made a hard left, the door popped open, and I was tossed out like a sack full of kittens. My mom managed to grab my arm, which would have been helpful if my father had actually stopped the car, but apparently he didn’t notice or possibly thought I’d just catch up, and so my legs were dragged through a parking lot that I’m pretty sure was paved with broken glass and used syringes. (I learned three lessons from this experience: One: that vehicle safety in the late seventies was not exceptional for children. Two: that you should always leave before the officials arrive, as the orangeish sting of the medicinal acid applied by a sadistic ambulance driver will hurt far worse than any injury you can sustain being dragged behind a car. And three: that “Don’t make me come back there” is an empty threat, unless your father has been driving four hours with two screaming kids and he suddenly gets very quiet, in which case you should lock your door or at least remember to tuck and roll. I’m not saying he intentionally threw me out of a moving car, just that an opportunity presented itself and that my father is a dangerous man who shouldn’t be trusted.)2
Did you notice how, like, half of this introduction was a rambling parenthetical? That shit is going to happen all the time. I apologize in advance for that, and also for offending you, because you’re going to get halfway through this book and giggle at non sequiturs about Hitler and abortions and poverty, and you’ll feel superior to all the uptight, easily offended people who need to learn how to take a fucking joke, but then somewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, “Oh, that is way over the line.” I apologize for that one thing. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.
1. I never actually lived in a dugout. But I did totally go to Carlsbad Caverns once.
2. When I read these stories to friends I’m always shocked when they stop me to ask, “Wait, is that true?” during the most accurate of all of the stories. The things that have been changed are mainly names and dates, but the stories you think couldn’t possibly have happened? Those are the real ones. As in real life, the most horrible stories are the ones that are the truest. And, as in real life, the reverse is true as well.
I Was a Three-Year-Old Arsonist
Call me Ishmael. I won’t answer to it, because it’s not my name, but it’s much more agreeable than most of the things I’ve been called. “Call me ‘that-weird-chick-who-says-“fuck”-a-lot’” is probably more accurate, but “Ishmael” seems classier, and it makes a way more respectable beginning than the sentence I’d originally written, which was about how I’d just run into my gynecologist at Starbucks and she totally looked right past me like she didn’t even know me. And so I stood there wondering whether that’s something she does on purpose to make her clients feel less uncomfortable, or whether she just genuinely didn’t recognize me without my vagina. Either way, it’s very disconcerting when people who’ve been inside your vagina don’t acknowledge your existence. Also, I just want to clarify that I don’t mean “without my vagina” like I didn’t have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn’t, you know…displaying it while I was at Starbucks. That’s probably understood, but I thought I should clarify, since it’s the first chapter and you don’t know that much about me. So just to clarify, I always have my vagina with me. It’s like my American Express card. (In that I don’t leave home without it. Not that I use it to buy stuff with.)
This book is a true story about me and my battle with leukemia, and (spoiler alert) in the end I die, so you could just read this sentence and then pretend that you read the whole book. Unfortunately, there’s a secret word somewhere in this book, and if you don’t read all of it you won’t find out the secret word. And then the people in your book club will totally know that you stopped reading after this paragraph and will realize that you’re a big, fat fake.
Okay, fine. The secret word is “Snausages.”
Still there? Good. Because the secret word is not really “Snausages,” and I don’t even know how to spell “leukemia.” This is a special test that you can use to see who really read the book. If someone in your book club even mentions Snausages or leukemia, they are a liar and you should make them leave and probably you should frisk them as you’re throwing them out, because they may have stolen some of your silverware. The real secret word is “fork.”1
I grew up a poor black girl in New York. Except replace “black” with “white,” and “New York” with “rural Texas.” The “poor” part can stay. I was born in Austin, Texas, which is known for its popular “Keep Austin Weird” campaign, and since I’ve spent my whole life being pigeonholed as “that weird girl,” I ended up fitting in there perfectly and-lived-happily-ever-after. The-end. This is probably what would have been the end of my book if my parents hadn’t moved us away from Austin when I was three.
I have pretty much no memory of Austin, but according to my mom we lived in a walk-up apartment near the military base, and late at night I would stand up in my crib, open the curtains, and attempt to wave soldiers on the street up to my room. My father was one of those soldiers at the time, and when my mom told me this story as a teenager I pointed out that perhaps she should have appreciated my getting him off the streets like that. Instead she and my father just moved my crib away from the window, because they were concerned I was “developing an aptitude for that kind of trade.” Apparently I was really distraught about this whole arrangement, because the very next week I shoved a broom into the living room furnace, set it on fire, and ran through the apartment screaming and swinging the flaming torch around my head. Allegedly. I have no memory of this at all, but if it did happen I suspect I was probably waving it around like some kinda awesomely patriotic, flaming baton. To hear my mother tell it, I was viciously brandishing it at her like she was Frankenstein’s monster and I was several angry villagers. My mother refers to this as my first arson episode. I refer to it as a lesson in why rearranging someone else’s furniture is dangerous to everyone. We’ve agreed to disagree on the wording.
Shortly after that incident, we packed up and moved to the small, violently rural town of Wall, Texas. My parents claimed it was because my dad’s enlistment had ended, and my mom found herself pregnant with my little sister and wanted to be closer to family, but I suspect it was because they realized there was something wrong with me and believed that growing up in the same small West Texas town that they’d grown up in might change me into a normal person. This was one of many things that they were wrong about. (Other things they were wrong about: the existence of the tooth fairy, the “timeless appeal” of fake wood paneling, the wisdom of leaving a three-year-old alone with a straw broom and a furnace.)
If you compared the Wall, Texas, of today with the Wall, Texas, of my childhood, you would hardly recognize it, because the Wall, Texas, of today has a gas station. And if you think having a gas station is not that big of a deal, then you’re probably the kind of person who grew up in a town that has a gas station, and that doesn’t encourage students to drive to school in their tractors.
Wall is basically a tiny town with…um…dirt? There’s a lot of dirt. And cotton. And gin, but not the good kind. In Wall, when people refer to gin they’re talking about the Cotton Gin, which is the only real business in the town and is like a factory that turns cotton into…something else. I honestly have no idea. Different cotton, maybe? I never actually bothered to learn, because I always figured that within days I would be escaping this tiny country town, and that’s pretty much how my entire life went for the next twenty years.
Our yearbook theme one year was simply “Where’s Wall?” because it was the question you’d get asked every time you told someone you lived there. The original—and more apt—theme had been “Where the fuck is Wall?” but the yearbook teacher quickly shot down that concept, saying that age-appropriate language was important, even at the cost of journalistic accuracy.
Those things on the back cover are cotton balls. No shit, y’all.
When I was asked where Wall was, I would always answer with a vague “Oh, that direction,” with a wave of my hand, and I quickly learned that if I didn’t immediately change the subject to something to break their train of thought (My personal standby: “Look! Sea monsters!”), then they’d ask the inevitable (and often incredulous) follow-up question of “Why Wall?” and you were never entirely sure whether they were asking why the hell you’d choose to live there, or why anyone would choose to name a town “Wall,” but it didn’t actually matter, because no one seemed to have a legitimate answer for either.
Unfortunately, pointing out sea monsters was neither subtle nor believable (mostly because we were completely landlocked), so instead I began compensating for Wall’s beigey blandness by making up interesting but unverifiable stories about the small town. “Oh, Wall?” I’d say, with what I imagined was a sophisticated sneer. “It’s the city that invented the dog whistle.” Or, “It’s the town that Footloose was based on. Kevin Bacon is our national hero.” Or, “I’m not surprised you’ve never heard of it. It was the scene of one of the most gruesome cannibalistic slaughters in American history. We don’t talk about it, though. I shouldn’t even be mentioning it. Let’s never speak of it again.” I’d hoped that the last one would give me an air of mystery and make people fascinated with our lurid history, but instead it just made them concerned about my mental health, and eventually my mother heard about my tall tales and pulled me aside to tell me that no one was buying it, and that the town was most likely named after someone whose last name happened to be Wall. I pointed out that perhaps he’d been named that because he was the man who’d invented walls, and she sighed impatiently, pointing out that it would be hard to believe that a man had invented walls when most of them couldn’t even be bothered to close the bathroom door while they’re using it. She could tell that I was disappointed at the lack of anything remotely redeeming about our town, and conceded halfheartedly that perhaps the name came from a metaphoric wall, designed to keep something out. Progress was my guess. My mother suggested it was more likely boll weevils.
I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a childhood that was not like mine. I have no real frame of reference, but when I question strangers I’ve found that their childhood generally had much less blood in it, and also that strangers seem uncomfortable when you question them about their childhood. But really, what else are you going to talk about in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems like the natural choice, since it’s the reason why most of us are in line there to begin with. I’ve found, though, that people are more likely to share their personal experiences if you go first, so that’s why I always keep an eleven-point list of what went wrong in my childhood to share with them. Also I usually crack open a bottle of tequila to share with them, because alcohol makes me less nervous, and also because I’m from the South, and in Texas we offer drinks to strangers even when we’re waiting in line at the liquor store. In Texas we call that “southern hospitality.” The people who own the liquor store call it “shoplifting.” Probably because they’re Yankees.
I’m not allowed to go back to that liquor store.2
1. “Fork” is not really the real secret word. There isn’t actually a secret word. Because this is a book, y’all. Not a fucking spy movie.
2. Author’s note: My editor informs me that this doesn’t count as a chapter, because nothing relevant happens in it. I explained that that’s because this is really just an introduction to the next chapter and probably should be combined with the next chapter, but I separated it because I always find it’s nice to have short chapters that you can finish quickly so you can feel better about yourself. Plus, if your English teacher assigned you to read the first three chapters of this book you’ll already be finished with the first two, and in another ten minutes you can go watch movies about sexy, glittery vampires, or whatever the hell you kids are into nowadays. Also, you should thank your English teacher for assigning you this book, because she sounds badass. You should probably give her a bottle from the back of your parents’ liquor cabinet to thank her for having the balls to choose this book over The Red Badge of Courage. Something single-malt.
You’re welcome, English teachers. You totally owe me.
Wait. Hang on. It just occurred to me that if English teachers assigned this book as required reading, that means that the school district just had to buy a ton of my books, so technically I owe you one, English teachers. Except that now that I think about it, my tax dollars paid for those books, so technically I’m kind of paying for people to read my own book, and now I don’t know whether to be mad or not. This footnote just turned into a goddamn word problem.
You know what? Fuck it. Just send me half of the malt liquor you get from your students and we’ll call it even.
Also, is this the longest footnote in the history of ever? Answer: Probably.
Table of Contents
I Was a Three-Year-Old Arsonist 3
My Childhood: David Copperfield Meets Guns & Ammo Magazine 9
Stanley, the Magical Talking Squirrel 22
Don't Tell Your Parents 30
Jenkins, You Motherfucker 37
If You Need an Arm Condom, It Might Be Time to Reevaluate Some of Your Life Choices 46
Draw Me a Fucking Dog 58
And That's Why Neil Patrick Harris Would Be the Most Successful Mass Murderer Ever 70
No One Ever Taught Me Couch Etiquette 79
Just Your Average Engagement Story 83
It Wasn't Stew 88
Married on the Fourth of July 95
There's No Place Like Home 100
A Series of Helpful Post-it Notes I Left Around the House for My Husband This Week 105
The Dark and Disturbing Secrets HR Doesn't Want You to Know 111
If You See My Liver, You've Gone Too Far 125
My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking 134
Phone Conversation I Had with My Husband After I Got Lost for the Eighty Thousandth Time 140
And Then I Got Stabbed in the Face by a Serial Killer 146
Thanks for the Zombies, Jesus 164
Making Friends with Girls 169
I Am the Wizard of Oz of Housewives (In That I Am Both "Great and Terrible" and Because I Sometimes Hide Behind the Curtains) 191
The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door 201
An Open Letter to My Husband, Who Is Asleep in the Next Room 209
Just to Clarify: We Don't Sleep with Goats 212
Stabbed by Chicken 221
It Wasn't Even My Crack 238
Honestly, I Don't Even Know Where I Got That Machete: A Comic Tragedy in Three Farts Days 247
I'm Going to Need an Old Priest and a Young Priest 258
And That's Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles 277
Hairless Rats: Free for Kids Only 282
And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane 287
You Can't Go Home Again (Unless You Want to Get Mauled by Wild Dogs) 297
The End (Sort of) 309
True Facts 815
What People are Saying About This
Even when I was funny, I wasn't this funny. (Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors and This is How)
Let's Pretend This Never Happened won Goodread’s Best Humor Book of 2012 and was chosen as one of Hudson Bookseller’s Best Books of 2012
Reading Group Guide
INTRODUCTIONWhen Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame–spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long–suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments—the ones we want to pretend never happened—are the very same moments that make us the people we are today. For every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud, this is a poignant and hysterical look at the dark, disturbing, yet wonderful moments of our lives.
ABOUT JENNY LAWSONJenny Lawson is a columnist and one of the most popular bloggers on Twitter (hundreds of thousands of followers). Her blog, averages between 2–3 million page views per month. Jenny lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband and daughter.
Questions from Jen Lancaster to Jenny Lawson:
Jen Lancaster: You appear to have a soft spot for dead, stuffed creatures, particularly if they're clad in bowler hats or acting out a sceneplease explain.
Jenny Lawson: My father is a professional taxidermist, so it's not like I had a fighting chance. And besides, I think the real question here is, who wouldn't be interested in ferrets in cancan dresses? Old anthropomorphic taxidermy is fascinating and I've collected an entire menagerie of creatures that make up my personal posse. Cuban pirate alligators, Shakespearean mice, heavily armed squirrels, vampire-slaying ducklings. I'm not sure how you say no to those. My husband can, but I'm fairly sure there's something not right about him. Anyone who can turn his nose up at the Last Supper constructed of Victorian kittens has a problem. I suspect it's because he's a Republican.
Jen Lancaster: Who would you say is more powerful, The Bloggess Army or the KISS Army? Compare and contrast.
Jenny Lawson: My gut says the Bloggess Army is a bit more intimidating because we don't dress up like kitties, but I'd probably still pick the KISS Army because Gene Simmons scares the shit out of me. Plus, my fans are less of an army and more of a collection of misfit minions looking to have a good time. Actually, now that I think about it, there's probably a lot of crossover with the KISS Army. We should host a potluck together.
Jen Lancaster: Can you believe some people don't know what a confidence wig is?
Jenny Lawson: Right?! It's shocking how often I walk in with one and I hear people whispering about the poor cancer patient that just walked in. I'm not a cancer patient, people. I just wear a wig to increase confidence. Plus, if I really mortify myself, I can just run to the bathroom, throw away the wig, and come back in and ask everyone who invited the crazy blonde that just crawled out of the bathroom window. There is no downside.
Jen Lancaster: What's it going to take for Nathan Fillion to send you a photo of himself holding a ball of twine?
Jenny Lawson: I think it's going to take Nathan Fillion holding a ball of twine. I've offered him thousands of dollars and he still rebuffs me. I have no idea what the hold up is, but I can only imagine that Nathan Fillion is allergic to either twine or to bringing smiles to the faces of strange women who really aren't asking for that much, Nathan.
Jen Lancaster: Complete this sentence: "An oversized metal chicken . . . "
Jenny Lawson: "Means never having to say you're sorry. Because it's not towels."
Jen Lancaster: Snooki or Kim Kardashian?
Jenny Lawson: Alphabetically, or in order of who is most likely to fuck up the youth of America? Because those are two different answers. Or possibly they aren't, now that I think about it.
Jen Lancaster: What would you be doing if you weren't writing? ("Hard time" is an acceptable and, frankly, the anticipated answer, FYI.)
Jenny Lawson: Well, I was going to say "hard time" but now you've ruined it. Which makes me feel stabby. Which leads to hard time. I think this is an example of circular logic. In real life, though, I'd be writing. Before my book it was blogging and before blogging, it was journaling and several times in between, it was graffiti. Writers write always. I thought Ray Bradbury said that, but I can't find the quote anywhere so I'm taking credit for it. Writers write always.
Jen Lancaster: I don't consider you a mommyblogger, but many PR companies do. What's the worst pitch you've gotten?
Jenny Lawson: Once a PR exec accidentally "replied to all" and called me "a fucking bitch" after I asked them to stop sending me pitches about a Kardashian wearing panty hose. He replied that I should feel flattered that I was even viewed as relevant enough to be pitched to, and I replied "Please stand by for a demonstration of relevancy" and tweeted it out to hundreds of thousands of people. It was kind of awesome. And terrifying.
Jen Lancaster: Wil Wheaton or William Shatner?
Jenny Lawson: Wil Wheaton. Unless we're doing the "destroying America thing" again. Then I have to recalculate. William Shatner and I are still recovering from a feud that was covered by MSNBC and Gawker when he refused to come to my house after I apparently offered him the wrong type of hooker. That man is a damn diva. Wil Wheaton, on the other hand, is an officer and a gentleman. William Shatner could learn a lot from that man.
Jen Lancaster: If you had one piece of advice for someone hoping to follow your career path, what would it be?
Jenny Lawson: My one word of advice would be "FORTHELOVEOOFGODDON'T." I've fallen backward into this, and I have done every single thing wrong. I have no sacred cows and am fairly unmarketable to any mainstream advertisers. I burn bridges because I like the pretty way they glow and I do exactly the opposite of everything I'm ever told to do. Thank God there's a steady stream of intellectual misfits and misanthropic joy-seekers who get me, because that's the only thing that's saved me. Finding my tribe was a great gift that the Internet gave me. I returned the favor with tweets about shit my cat was doing. We're pretty even.
Jen Lancaster: What's it like to ride around in your head for the day?
Jenny Lawson: Cramped. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Baffling. I have no way to compare it, but whenever I let slip the bizarre things I'm thinking about, people seem alarmed and step away slowly, so I think "disorientating" is probably fair as well.
An additional Q&A with Jenny Lawson
Quick, when you hear the letters B and N, you think of. .. ?
"I'd like to buy a vowel." Then I think, "Hell, I've wasted my turn," because it's clearly Barnes & Noble.
Favorite book ever?
One day when I get to heaven I'm going to be asked why I didn't put "The Bible, of course" here. Truthfully, though, my favorite book ever is probably the collected works of Ray Bradbury. The man is a damn genius.
Favorite top five authors?
Hunter S. Thompson
First book you remember buying at a bookstore?
Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary. It was one of my favorite books, and I always related to Ramonanever fitting in and always messing up everything. I reread it again as an adult recently and was surprised to realize that it was really about kids dealing with a parent suffering from depression and unemployment. I suddenly felt I could identify with Ramona's father as much as with Ramona. It's the mark of a strong book that it still holds up thirty-plus years later.
How old were you when you learned to read?
Five. I read early (for the time) because we didn't have much else to keep us occupied. When I was little, the bookmobile would come and we'd walk to it and fill our bags to bursting and then slowly devour the books. I remember having to limit myself to just a few chapters at a time so I wouldn't run out before the bookmobile made its run back to the country. In a way, I think I'm lucky that we had so little but always had access to books, because it taught me the joy of escaping into other worlds. When I'd run out of books to read, I'd pull out a notebook and write my own stories. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but boredom is the mother of authors.
If you didn't write, what would you do?
Drugs, probably. I use writing as a therapy to help me deal with chronic pain and various fun mental disorders. I used to do art therapy, but my rheumatoid arthritis is so bad now that it's hard to draw sometimes. Writing saved me.
Why should people buy your book?
Because they will feel much better about themselves by comparison. The book is basically a compilation of all the most mortifying moments of my lifeand why those moments ended up being the best ones. .. the ones that made me who I am today.
If you could cast the movie of your book, who would play you? Your husband, Victor? Hamlet von Schnitzel?
Mindy Kaling would play me, because we have the same voice. Victor would be Seth Rogen. My dad would be played by Zach Galifianakis. My mom would be Don Cheadle, because I think he has great range.
In your author photo, you're in a bathrobe with a towel and a cat on your head. One of our favorite chapters of the book takes place while you are in the bathroom with (spoiler alert!) your cat on the other side of the door. The other day you tweeted a picture of yourself almost naked. Do you ever wear real clothes? Are you ever more than twenty feet away from your cat?
I was wearing clothes while I was in the bathroom. Who goes to the bathroom naked? How messy is it going to get, for God's sake? Also, I wasn't completely naked in that picture I tweeted. I was wearing a wolf. Technically the wolf was naked, though. And no, I'm never more than twenty feet away from my cat. Mostly because my cat has separation anxiety. Ferris Mewler will probably go on tour with me. He'll be the naked one in the cat suit.
The tagline for your book is "For every intellectual misfit." But if you're such a misfit, how do you explain that you have 200,000 followers on Twitter?
There are lots of misfits out there. For every one person who reads my stuff and identifies, there are a hundred others who don't get it at all and who also loved high school and can't wait to pay their taxes and go to jury duty. They probably also never show up on the news mostly naked. I feel sorry for those people.
Where is Beyoncé right now?
He's in the backyard, but a windstorm knocked him over. Victor keeps going to the window and yelling, "CHICKEN DOWN," but neither of us has the strength to go pick Beyoncé up. So now we're just pretending that he's sleeping. He looks totally peaceful.
You've invited us over for dinnerthank you, we'd love to come. What should we expect when we walk in the door of your house? What should we wear? What will we eat? And will it be good?
Honestly? You'll be greeted by a life-sized Marie Antoinette, in the form of a parade-float statue, and a three-story haunted dollhouse. We'll eat sandwiches from the gas station nearest us because I can't cook, and then I'll make us homemade booze snow-cones. Then I'll have a panic attack and hide in the bathroom, but I'll invite you to join me. Black tie optional. IT WILL BE AMAZING.